New Zealand’s West Coast is one of the easiest place to ignore when it comes to planning a quick and time-constraining trip. In my opinion, it is located at an awkward spot.
Even so, the West Coast has so much to offer. From crazy rock formations, to glaciers, to waterfalls and beaches. There’s nothing that we couldn’t find in the West Coast!
Every place that we went surprised us all the same. Although I have to admit that the Mackenzie district is still by far my favorite district in New Zealand, West Coast comes really close in second.
The following sequence goes by the direction from Christchurch to West Coast towards Wanaka.
1. Castle Hill, Canterbury
I love the crazy rock formation of Castle Hill. The place looked nothing like a castle, but they got the ‘hill’ part right. Rocks there ranged from tiny to humongous.
The only shade we had at that time was the towering rocks. It was just a place full of nothing but ridiculously giant rocks. Note how many times I typed ‘rock’.
Reminder at Castle Hill:
It gets really blazing hot at noon. Go either early in the morning or late in the evening. If not, bring umbrella or sunscreen to avoid getting roasted alive.
2. Bealey Spur Track
After Castle Hill, we drove 30 minutes without any mobile signal to Bealey Spur Track. We met a few hikers along the way, asking each and everyone of them if we were close to the view. Apparently, this was a 5- 6 hour track that leads to Bealey Hut.
We thought we were losing sunlight, so we rushed to the top only to find that the sun was still far from setting. What greeted us was a dangerously breathtaking view. Literally.
That day, the sun set at 8.30pm.
3. Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall
We went to the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall on a gloomy day. The rivers we saw on our way up resembled that of the views we had seen in Mt. Cook.
Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall itself was powerful, but we found it very difficult to open our eyes and challenging to not have my baby hair always in my face. Be ready to face the spray of the mighty waterfall!
Reminder at the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall:
Always bring your raincoat and waterproof pants. It gets really windy and cold. Bring a waterproof camera too, though optional.
3. Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, Punakaiki
I love pancakes. What’s more, pancakes with a view that looked like it was taken straight out of the Lord of the Rings!
We took a loop walk that could we walked from either direction. A very short walk, yet one that took up a lot of our time. The waves were rough, the clouds still loomed the sky.
Second spot where we were exposed to yet another crazy rock formation in New Zealand. We spent a lot of time just gazing at the rocks and taking them in.
McMillan Rd Freedom Campsite is just 4 minutes drive away from Pancake Rocks and Blowholes!
Reminder for Pancake Rocks and Blowholes:
To avoid the crowd, go in the late evenings. We were there by 4pm when it was pouring, still buses and buses of tourists were coming in. By the time it was 6pm, we only saw one family and the place was almost deserted.
4. Punakaiki Cavern
Punakaiki Cavern is just a few minutes drive away from Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, situated beside a rocky beach where nobody goes.
We parked beside the beach and walked in the cavern by foot, activating the torchlights on our phones. It was a very short walk in the cavern, though.
Reminder for Punakaiki Cavern:
It gets really slippery in there.
5. Hokitika Beach Sign
Ah, the ever-famous Hokitika beach sign.
Surprisingly, we didn’t see many people taking pictures with the sign. It is not just the sign that made this beach famous.
Many locals were having picnics beside the beach too. It is a family-favourite spot in Hokitika.
6. Hokitika Gorge
You will always see Hokitika Gorge on the front page of the brochure introducing Hokitika. The water of the gorge was surreal as it was somewhere in the middle of cyan and azure.
Also another famous picnic spot, you can see many people sitting around the rocks having picnics. We were lucky to take the insta-worthy shots without anyone queuing up behind waiting for us to finish.
Reminder for Hokitika Gorge:
The place is full of hazard. You can choose to either stand on the viewing platform safe from the rocks (also where Louis stood to take the pictures), or be a daredevil like me, standing at the far edge gambling with my life.
7. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
I cannot tell you just how much I love Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk. I had never seen a glacier up close in my whole life. It was an epic and eye-opening walk.
We walked across the valley, gazing at the waterfalls cascading down the rocks in every directions. Down there, we just like a speck of dust amidst those rocks.
There were rocks surrounding us all over. At the end of the walk, we arrived at a barricaded spot where we could not walk further.
8. Tatare Tunnel
We did not enjoy the dull, monotonous walk to Tatare Tunnel. However, we enjoyed the moment we arrived at the tunnel and crossed icy waters in the tunnel.
We could’ve walked faster when we were inside if we weren’t focusing too much on the stepping stones that people had laid there before us. Halfway in, the water started getting ankle deep, no stones were left for us to step on, so we walked out.
Bring your head torch because you need to make sure you have enough hands to work with. Bring along some guts too if there was no one else to accompany you. It gets pretty dark and chilly inside.
9. Lake Matheson Walk
Ah, isn’t this the famous mirror lake that is shared all over Instagram?
We did not expect to see a lake of such dark waters. Lake Matheson is famous for its still reflection because of those dark waters. Even the slightest wind could disrupt the stillness of the lake.
It took a very short time for us to reach the lake; however, returning took a longer time as we walked a loop back.
10. Blue Pools Walk
My favorite cyan-colored pool.
A perfect place to have a picnic, relax, and spend time with your loved ones. Someone even jumped into the pool from the suspension bridge. It was insane!
It’ll only take a while before you arrive at the blue pool. The suspension bridge is usually full of people trying to take a good shot from the bridge.
Tip: Cross the bridge, go to the end and go down a bit of a slope on your left. You’ll get a picture with both the blue pool and the suspension bridge from a high angle! Best of all, no one takes a picture there!
Well there you have it! My 10 best locations in West Coast New Zealand!
There was also Haast pass, but we did not really stop there because there were too many cars parked by the roadside. We also happened to be in the wrong direction. Even so – no regrets!
Remember to check the weather when you visit! Out of the many days we traveled West Coast, it was raining most of the days. Or you can be like me, wear your raincoat and waterproof trousers and you’re good to go!